Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Calendar: Singing "The Messiah"

It's the annual Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories!  I've participated the past three years (2009, 2010, and 2011), and rather than simply re-post, I'm going to link to the older posts, and - when applicable - post about something else that's somewhat related.

I'm still running a day behind, and hope to catch up tomorrow.

The prompt for yesterday was:  December 11 – Other Traditions
Did your family or friends also celebrate other traditions during the holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa?  Did your immigrant ancestors have holiday traditions from their native country which they retained or perhaps abandoned?

In past years, I wrote about my dad's family celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and lighting the candles in an Advent wreath my son made.  A new tradition for me is listening to a recording of myself and the choir I was in singing Handel's Messiah - 25 years ago.

My score, my copy of our recording, and the program for our performance (which I designed)

Now, I'm no singer.  I have an alto voice, but tend to drift to singing the soprano line because it's usually the melody and the melodies are better known.  I can't read music, except to tell if a note goes up or down (and how long to hold it).  I can't tell an A from a C or an E or a G, and I certainly couldn't sing one of those on command.  I was in a choir in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, but I wasn't very good then either.

However, I always wanted to try singing The Messiah, and friends and family talked me into joining our small church choir, which was going to attempt this.  At the time, I was attending a small Lutheran church in Washington state (my ex-husband was not Catholic).

We had a charismatic choir director, Bill Williams, who managed to recruit 10 sopranos, 10 altos, 5 tenors (one female), and 9 basses, out of a congregation of about 200.   Some donors in our congregation came up with the money to hire professional soloists and musicians (friends of Bill who did it for very little).

We practiced for months before our performance on December 20, 1987.  Bill was very patient with beginners like me, and had us do lots of exercises to strengthen our voices and stamina.  You certainly needed stamina to get through the three-plus measure coloraturas or trills in "For unto us a Child is born,"  my favorite piece in this work, and other choruses.

The night of the performance, the sound system and lights failed not once, but two times, into the overture.  The first time, Bill quipped, "Probably the most brief version of The Messiah ever performed," which got a big laugh, adding "This is what we call the era of modern we know why Handel doesn't live in this era."  Some lights were turned off, but the sound system failed again.  This time, he joked, "It took Handel - what was it? - 24 days to write this," again generating lots of laughs, adding, "I suppose some of you are probably tied up between now until after the first of the this rate, it's going to take us 24 days to play it."

Then he said something that helped those of us in the choir who were by now quite nervous:  "This is the third time though.  You know it's very encouraging that this should happen in any program right out of the starting box, because it gives confidence to the choir and...soloists and musicians...they realize it can only get better."

And it did.  Since then, every year, I listen to the cassette tape recording Bill made for all of us of that performance (yes, I still have a cassette tape player at home and in my car).  I get chills when I hear we altos start the first chorus with "And the glory, the glory of the Lord..."

By the time we reach the end of that chorus, and in every chorus thereafter, I am crying, amazed that yes, I did this!  I sang The Messiah!  And we sounded (and still sound) really good!

© Amanda Pape - 2012 - click here to e-mail me.

The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history 24 different ways during 24 days in December! Learn more at

No comments:

Post a Comment